"Mourners recall Clooney's warmth -- Hundreds gather for funeral of singer-actress"

By Larry Muhammad, The Courier-Journal, July 6, 2002

 MAYSVILLE, Ky. -- This picturesque Northern Kentucky town of 8,900 said an emotional farewell yesterday to its most celebrated native, actress and singer Rosemary Clooney.

Clooney, 74, died June 29 in Los Angeles, where she had been hospitalized following a recurrence of lung cancer.

In a solemn, hourlong funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Church -- where Clooney was baptized, first took communion and married her second husband, Dante DiPaolo -- candles flickered in the pulpit yesterday among bouquets of lilacs, violets, daisies, irises, carnations and roses of all colors. A simple coffin sat before the altar.

The Rev. William Hinds addressed the 800 mourners, which included Clooney's five children, 10 grandchildren, friends and several Hollywood notables, such as Al Pacino, Beverly D'Angelo and Clooney's nephew, George Clooney.

''Rosemary, you're back here again in St. Patrick's, where as a school child you came to pray and 4 1/2 years ago, you came for confession about the things you had done and shouldn't have done in life.

''Now you're here for the last time, and at the same time standing at the gates of Heaven. We are going to ask the Lord to let your voice join the heavenly choir.''

Clooney was buried in the church cemetery near her mother and grandmother.

At the gravesite, D'Angelo said she and Pacino ''are among the many, many people whose lives were touched by Rosemary.''

Many in her hometown were quick to share their favorite stories of Clooney. They talked about how she made everyone feel as if they were special and how she never saw color or social barriers.

''When she walked into a room, it wasn't 'Here I am,' but 'Who are you? How are you?' '' said Sean Moral, owner of Beehive Tavern, a Caribbean-American restaurant in nearby Augusta.

''She would literally walk into my kitchen to say hello to me and all my staff. She would kiss and hug everybody,'' Moral said.

In Maysville -- where a street named for her in 1953 runs to the Ohio River, and where in 1999 she started the annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival to benefit the Russell Theater -- residents recall her ''homegirl'' sweetness.

She loved transparent tart pudding, a special dessert at Magee's Bakery; she went to DeLite's diner for Coney Island hot dogs; and she bought her wedding rings at Traxel jewelers, which at one time had been owned in part by her grandfather and Maysville's former mayor, Andrew Clooney.

Connie Mullinkin, the night desk clerk at the French Quarter Inn, said her mother once told her that she and Clooney played with dolls together as youngsters.

''I didn't know if that was true. Last year, at one of her concerts to rescue Russell Theater, I told the drummer, and wrote my mother's name down: Margaret Brady. And she said, yes, she remembered my mother, and gave him a signed photograph to give me. I cried when I got it, it meant so much to me. I grew up hearing about her all my life, and she never did forget us.''

''The first time you meet her, she becomes your older sister, and after that it's always the same,'' said Maysville-area lawyer Ray Bogucki. ''We went to social functions together. I remember one time she sang at the governor's mansion, it was filmed by KET, and when I went to that thing it was like she was singing just to me. And there were a lot of other people there who knew her and loved her and felt the same -- she's just like their older sister. I will miss her horribly.''

Several residents said they remember Clooney for how she treated everyone the same.

In 1953, when her musical ''The Stars Are Singing'' premiered in Maysville, she refused to ride in the motorcade without her best friend, Blanchie Chambers, who is African American.

''That was Rosemary Clooney,'' said Chambers, now in her 70s. ''Rosemary Clooney didn't see color.''

In segregated Maysville of the 1940s, Chambers and Clooney would sit together in the Russell Theater's balcony -- then reserved for blacks -- and afterward go for ice cream cones together outside of restaurants that seated only whites.

Clooney started in show business at 16, singing duets in 1945 on Cincinnati radio station WLW with her 13year-old sister, Betty (now deceased). Her big break came in 1951 with ''Come on-a My House'', a gimmick Columbia tune she hated but nevertheless sang so beautifully that it sold 2 million copies.

She went on to make a number of musicals for Paramount Pictures, including ''White Christmas'' with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen.

In 1996 ''Rosemary Clooney's White Christmas'' was her first album to go to No. 1. Earlier this year she received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.

Nick Clooney, the radio personality and columnist for the Kentucky Post, shared his thoughts of his sister with the mourners yesterday.

''Fifteen years ago, Rosemary and I agreed that whichever of us went first, the other one would say a few words at their funeral,'' -- then, holding up a pocket watch added, ''no more than three minutes by Papa Clooney's watch.

''There isn't a person here this morning who isn't saying, 'I knew her the best,' and they're all right. She wrapped us up with affection and humor and allowed us to believe that everything would turn out all right in the end.''

Nick Clooney almost made it through his allotted time before his voice cracked. ''I've avoided so far the two words we came here to say: Goodbye, Rosemary.''